Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1-19)



  Chairman: Order, order.

  Andrew Mackinlay: I visited Gibraltar in September 2000 at the invitation of the Gilbraltar Government. It is in the register and I draw that to the attention of the Committee. I was hosted by them and according to the rules that should be minuted.

  Mr Chidgey: I also visited Gibraltar as a guest of the Gibraltar Government.

  Mr Hamilton: Similarly, I visited Gibraltar as a guest of the Gibraltar Government in September of this year.


  1. Chief Minister, welcome. As you know, the Committee has taken a very close interest in Gibraltar. We published our report in June 1999 and because of recent developments consider it vital to hear your views today. We have had the benefit of this lengthy statement, your evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee. I can give you an undertaking that that evidence will be included in the minutes of this meeting[2]. We have an hour or so, so it is important that you have as much opportunity as possible to put over your views to the Committee. May I begin by asking you to clear the ground in this way, to give to the Committee where your Government stands on the various options for development so that we know that as a platform for the questions which will follow? What is the position of your Government on those who seek full integration into the United Kingdom?

  (Mr Caruana) With your indulgence and before I answer your question, I should just like to place on the record that I had been led to believe that the format for today's evidence was that I should be invited to address the Committee for a period of up to 30 minutes and then that I would be questioned. That appears not to be the intention of the Committee. I am very anxious to address the Committee on what is going on at the moment rather than on other issues, but of course I am in the Committee's hands. The Committee has received that paper. It is supposed to be notes of evidence I was going to give to you orally now. It is entirely a matter for you to conduct the business of the Committee.

  2. Indeed. I am confident, whatever misunderstandings there may or may not have been, that with your usual skill you can put over your current position in answer to questions. First, if you would, what is the view of the Government in relation to integration into the UK? I am going through the several options.

  (Mr Caruana) The views of the Government and the people of Gibraltar overwhelmingly are that the future of Gibraltar can only be determined by the exercise by the people of Gibraltar of their right to self-determination; that is to say the people of Gibraltar, as all colonial peoples have done before them in the world's history of decolonisation, in accordance with their own wishes. There are, as Mr Chairman knows, four options for decolonisation that the United Nations find acceptable. One of them is integration with a colonial power or some other. If the question of integration arose, then as far as we are concerned the only version of that integration option which we are willing to contemplate is integration with the United Kingdom. We should certainly not be willing to consider any form of integration with any other country including our neighbour, Spain.

  3. Is that a realistic option in your judgement?

  (Mr Caruana) It is a realistic option if we are to be guided by the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. If anyone aspires to deal with the future of Gibraltar, not as an issue of self-determination by its people, but as the resolution of a sovereignty dispute between the administering power, the United Kingdom and the territorial claimant, Spain, and seeks to impose that approach to life as opposed to the real free choice of the people of Gibraltar, and I believe that is what is afoot at the moment through the Foreign Office—

  4. Do you see any constraint on that free will of the people imposed by the Treaty of Utrecht, Article X?

  (Mr Caruana) We believe that the Treaty of Utrecht is in law incapable of overriding the Charter of the United Nations. We think it is watertight international law that where a bilateral or even a multilateral treaty is inconsistent with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, the Charter of the United Nations, which is primary and supreme international law, prevails over any such other agreements. We say more than that. We say we have eminent international constitutional legal opinion to back up that deal and we go further than that and say to both the Foreign Office and the Spanish Government, if you think we are wrong on that let us test it in the International Court of Justice. Let the International Court of Justice have the question referred to it for an advisory opinion, whether the Treaty of Utrecht is valid at all now to constrain the rights to self-determination of the people of Gibraltar, which we are certain it is not, but if it is, to what extent is it so. You are entitled, I believe, to ask yourselves why neither the United Kingdom Government, nor indeed the Government of the Kingdom of Spain, is willing to pursue that course, when we, who are the ones who have most to risk, are happy to do so. The answer is that they know that we are right and it does not suit them politically to test it.

  5. What do you say about the status quo?

  (Mr Caruana) What I am saying about the status quo is that it is prosperous, stable and secure and that if somebody says to me they need to do a deal with Spain to ensure that my future is also stable, prosperous and secure, what they are really doing is threatening that if I do not have a deal with Spain, my current stable, prosperous and secure present will not be allowed to endure into and prevail in the future. The people of Gibraltar believe that those are threats.

  6. You have stressed the stability, you have stressed the prosperity. Do you see no disadvantages in the status quo in respect of that prosperity and stability?

  (Mr Caruana) Whatever might be the disadvantages of opting to remain of exclusive British sovereignty and control, the people of Gibraltar are more than happy to assume. We do not wish to barter our sovereignty. We do not wish to barter our exclusive British sovereignty. We do not wish to give Spain a share of that sovereignty, a share in the control of Gibraltar, a role in the conduct of the affairs of Gibraltar, in exchange for any quantity of financial or economic inducements.

  7. You are not even prepared to enter into discussions with Spain with an open agenda.

  (Mr Caruana) We are very happy to enter into discussions with Spain on an open agenda. I have been advocating precisely such discussions with Spain since I have been in office for the last six years, but that discussion on an open agenda, has first of all to be structured in a way that is reasonably politically viable for all sides: Spain, but Gibraltar as well. That means that the Foreign Office does not cave in to the Spanish obsession with bilateralism. The issue at stake in the so-called boycott by me, which is a gross distortion of my position in relation to non-attendance at the talks, but that is what is being spun in the press in this country, is not that I will not go to talks, it is that I will not go to talks which are structured purely bilaterally between London and Madrid. Why? With your indulgence, it is important, as you offered, that you give me an opportunity to explain to the Committee why that is so. It is not just whimsical. The essence of the Spanish case over Gibraltar is that it is a piece of Spanish territory, occupied by the United Kingdom in which the people of Gibraltar have no political rights, certainly not the right to have their wishes taken into account and absolutely not the right to decide the future of Gibraltar in accordance with the rights to self-determination. Instead they argue that the decolonisation of Gibraltar must be brought about by the negotiation between London and Madrid of a transfer of the sovereignty of Gibraltar from the UK to Spain. The physical manifestation of that political position is the Spanish obsession with the talks being and being seen to be bilateral between London and Madrid, to which I am invited—note the word. I am the leader of the elected Government of Gibraltar, there is a process of dialogue in which it is said the destiny of my country is at stake and I am "invited", which is what you do to guests, to take part in that process.

  8. And you will not go unless you have a veto.

  (Mr Caruana) We will not go unless it is a valid, reasonable, viable process of dialogue, which means that—

  9. You have a veto.

  (Mr Caruana) We can use emotional language if we wish, but if nothing being agreed unless all the participants in the talks agree is called a veto, then that is what London and Madrid have at those talks. Why should they have it over the future of my country and not me? I do not ask for a veto. What I say is that if this is to be a political process of dialogue, which is politically viable not just for Spain, but also for Gibraltar, then it has to be a process of dialogue in which things emerge by way of agreement, because they have been agreed to by all the participants in the process and not by two of the participants with the third being their to express his opinion and then fold his arms to wait to see what the other two will do.

Mr Pope

  10. Would you agree that self-determination is a two-way process? The people of Gibraltar may decide that they want full integration with the UK. If that is the case, we surely have the right to say that we do not want that. We have rights as well.

  (Mr Caruana) The United Kingdom said that to the people of Gibraltar back in 1976 when Mr Roy Hattersley was the Foreign Office Minister and occupied the post Peter Hain now occupies and Gibraltar has assumed for some time, since that year, that the United Kingdom did not want us to integrate with it. Regrettably you cannot marry somebody who seems determined not to marry you. Therefore we are not asking for integration with the United Kingdom. I do not understand why integration has loomed so large so early in this meeting, but if the honourable Members are interested in it, I am very happy to discuss it. We are not seeking integration with the United Kingdom, not because many people in Gibraltar would not like it, but because it has been made perfectly clear to us it is not an option for the decolonisation of Gibraltar that the British Government would contemplate.

  11. So why should the UK continue with the status quo? It is palpably not in our interest, it is damaging our relations with a major EU ally, it is damaging our relations with a NATO ally, why should we stick with what we have?

  (Mr Caruana) Because the position of the British Government articulated only ten days ago by the Minister of State at the Foreign Office in answer to a Parliamentary Question from David Crausby, is that the Government of the United Kingdom does not believe that the Gibraltarian people's right to self-determination is constrained, except to the extent that they cannot opt for independence without the consent of Spain. That is the answer that Mr Hain gave to the House of Commons in answer to a Parliamentary Question just ten days ago. In other words, provided we do not opt for independence, we have the right to self-determination. That is what the man said and indeed that is what successive British Governments have said since 1969. However, of course what I cannot do is articulate for you a right to self-determination which is conditioned by your view of what is in your own interests. It is either that the future of Gibraltar is decided in accordance with what you believe to be in the United Kingdom's interests regardless of our wishes, or that the future of Gibraltar, as Mr Hain said in the House of Commons, is decided in accordance with the rights of self-determination of the people of Gibraltar bar independence. You cannot mix them both. To the extent that you do, you are curtailing our right to self-determination beyond the bar to independence.

  12. Is it not the case that even if you could persuade the UK Government that Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht was not watertight in international law, your chances of doing this with the Spanish Government are nil?

  (Mr Caruana) I do not want to persuade the Spanish Government. I want to persuade the International Court of Justice. After all, why should the United Kingdom and Spain get away with continuing to deny me the right to self-determination on what might be—and we are assured is—a wholly incorrect, misconceived, legal pretext, namely that Spain has some sort of residual right. The preponderance of legal opinion, indeed I have never seen a legal opinion to the contrary is that the Treaty of Utrecht and the so-called right of first refusal clause in it, is juridically incapable of denying the people of Gibraltar any aspect of their right to self-determination. We do not want to waste anybody's time if we are wrong, but nor do we want to be taken for a ride if we are right. Therefore we suggest: let the International Court of Justice adjudicate on that point and the only two parties who refuse are the ones who advocate that I do not have the right to self-determination.

Andrew Mackinlay

  13. Every time Gibraltar comes up before this Foreign Affairs Select Committee the Foreign Office think that there are things rotten in Gibraltar—my words. Certainly they start flagging up "smuggling" through journalists, that the Gibraltar Government are tardy on EU directives, etcetera. I want to give you the opportunity of giving us an audit of where we are at. I noticed that one of the Parliamentary Private Secretaries to the Foreign Office actually referred to smuggling in a BBC broadcast in the past few days. There is a question I particularly want to ask on that. My understanding is that the police are a matter for the Governor and the Governor is appointed by the Secretary of State. Could you clarify the law and order issues, go on to smuggling and bring us up to date on where you are at with the EU directives?

  (Mr Caruana) There is no smuggling taking place in Gibraltar. I am scandalised that these remarks should appear in the British press. It is only a year and a half since this Committee published a report condemning the British Government for not doing enough to dispel those untrue notions. Now that the Foreign Office appears to have swallowed the Spanish approach to Gibraltar hook line and sinker, now they are appearing in the British press, no longer just in the Spanish press. I have to say that I was distraught—distraught—to hear the Foreign Secretary in Parliamentary Questions yesterday legitimise the politically motivated slanderous Spanish slurs against Gibraltar by himself appearing to lend legitimacy to them when he was asked by somebody—it may not have been his own side, or it may even have been Joyce Quin, who queried—whether the Spaniards should not behave better and stop harassing the people of Gibraltar if they wanted to get on. I think I am not misquoting the Foreign Secretary—and if I am, I do apologise—that he said Gibraltar has complaints against Spain, but Spain has some complaints against Gibraltar, as has the EU, as has the OECD, and they are for Gibraltar to answer. I am not aware of any complaints the EU has against Gibraltar. I am not aware of any complaints that the OECD has against Gibraltar. I and my Government very much regret that the Foreign Secretary should have placed in the same category the untrue Spanish, slanderous allegations against Gibraltar, as Gibraltar's entirely legitimate complaints against Spain for behaviour that British Ministers have queued up in Gibraltar to see for themselves and then described as outrageous and unacceptable. On the last part of the question, let us be clear that law and order in Gibraltar is the responsibility of the Governor appointed by the Foreign Office. If there were a failure to enforce the laws of Gibraltar, which, let me tell you, Mr Chairman, members of the Committee, there is not, but as we are in the realms of speculation and slanderous allegation let us continue in that vein, it is not happening, but if it were happening, it would not be my constitutional responsibility. The allegedly non-compliant finance centre, presumably meaning non-compliant in terms of regulation and supervision, is the responsibility of a Financial Services Commissioner whose head and members are appointed by the British Foreign Secretary. I can tell this Committee that there are no breaches by Gibraltar of its financial services legislation which the British Government certifies, at least in the case of banking and insurance, matches UK standards. If by non-compliance you mean the odd directive here or the odd directive there that Gibraltar has not yet got round to transposing, the answer is that we are much more advanced in our rate of transposition than Spain and half of the other countries in Europe. If Gibraltar is going to be judged by the unique criteria of whether it is 100 per cent up to date on transposition of directives, then let us be clear, we are the only part of the European Community that is subjected to such stringency of examination.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  14. Let me make it quite plain that I am one of those who is really proud of British sovereignty in Gibraltar. You heard the exchanges in the House of Commons yesterday in which some of us took part. You are clearly concerned—to put it mildly. Would you tell this Committee what you believe the British Government's current policy with regard to Gibraltar is? Perhaps you would like to expand on that a little.

  (Mr Caruana) Yes, indeed. On the basis of almost contemporaneous speculation in the Spanish and the UK press, a pretty unlikely prospect to happen spontaneously and therefore leading one to the view that there is more than a small element of inspiration of the press in both countries, but on the basis of those speculative reports, it could be anything from joint sovereignty to shared responsibility for Gibraltar internationally or within the EU, to the establishment of joint Anglo-Spanish cross-border committees which would give Spain some sort of role in the conduct of our affairs. It has even been speculated that the Spaniards might have some role, presence or freedom to use the naval base in Gibraltar.

  15. Have you asked the British Foreign Secretary?

  (Mr Caruana) I have not done so yet, because all this is against the backdrop where we are told—and I suppose therefore we should believe—that there is no blueprint, that there is no deal done and that officials are now going to start working on coming up with ideas for co-operation. I suppose to ask whether any of these things are true is to suggest that answers which have been given in this House are not and I would not wish to do that. However, I have also to say that there is an aspect of the Foreign Secretary's answer in this respect that caused us great concern. It is that there has been some debate; the statements have been made with more or less clarity or more or less ambiguity from time to time. Certainly when I have gone, as I have done in the last few days, round almost every sector of the British press being interviewed, I have been struck by the extent to which everyone has the same question on their lips—journalists are very well informed here—"Do you not have a guarantee of a veto in a referendum?", they ask. A lot of issues arise but specifically in relation to the question Sir Patrick asked, the following question arises. When British Ministers articulate, presumably to put us all at rest, that there is no need to worry because any deal would have to go to a referendum, do they mean all aspects of any deal, or do they mean only those aspects of any deal that they might come to with Spain which may involve a transfer of sovereignty, because of course there is an enormous difference? Yesterday the Foreign Secretary said there would be a referendum—I do not know whether he was choosing his words carefully or whether it was loose language, which was not intended, but it certainly needs to be clarified—

  16. Why do you not seek to clarify it with him direct?

  (Mr Caruana) It was uttered only yesterday and I am articulating it with you. Certainly we shall seek to clarify it directly with him. He said that there would be a referendum only in so far as there were transfers of sovereignty involved. Then he spiced that concept, novel as it is, by the introduction of the adjective "legal" in front of the noun "sovereignty". There would be a referendum if there were a transfer of legal sovereignty. You do not have to be a rocket scientist or even a very clever member of the Foreign Office, to work out what that is capable of meaning if they wanted it so to mean and that is that they are free to do whatever agreements they want with Spain, even transferring the trappings of sovereignty and control, so long as they do not transfer legal sovereignty in a formal way and if there is no transfer of sovereignty at all, then there is no referendum. In other words, the process of dialogue I am being asked to attend therefore would be—I should be very happy if I were told that all aspects of a deal would go to a referendum whether they involved sovereignty or not, but on the basis of that answer, what I am being invited to do is to attend a process of dialogue—structured in a way where deals would be done, whether I am there or not, by the way, come the summer and those parts of it which may impinge on sovereignty will go to a referendum, those parts which do not impinge on sovereignty, but may nevertheless be politically anathema in Gibraltar, will not.

  17. You speak with force and with clarity and obviously you are the elected Chief Minister. How far do you speak for all sections of political opinion within Gibraltar? Do you believe that what you are saying to this Committee this afternoon represents a consensus of the overwhelming majority of Gibraltarian feeling?

  (Mr Caruana) There is no proponent of a contrary view who would not forfeit his deposit at the next General Election. The Foreign Office knows this. The Foreign Office knows that there is absolutely no prospect of any such deal passing muster in a referendum by the people of Gibraltar and therefore the question arises: what next? What happens after the inevitable rejection, especially if the arrangement is hatched along these lines and in this way? What happens next? That is the issue with which we should all, I believe, be concerned, because this is not a speculative process. I believe, if the speculation is correct, if the kites which are being flown in the press are correct, that there is no prospect of the people of Gibraltar accepting in a referendum any deal that involves any manner of transfer of sovereignty to Spain, legal or illegal, formal or informal; no prospect of the people of Gibraltar accepting joint committees to give Spain a role in the conduct of our affairs. This is not just the Gibraltar Government's view. I am answering your question which was not about the Gibraltar Government's view but rather what is the Gibraltar Government's assessment of the views of the people of Gibraltar. I believe the views I have just explained to you to be as near to unanimous as numbers are capable of recording.

Mr Maples

  18. I am interested in what you think the Spanish psychology is in these negotiations. It has always seemed to me that continuing effectively to blockade Gibraltar rather than trying to seduce it was never likely to produce the result they want. We know that started a very long time ago, back in the 1960s. Why do you think Spain continues to pursue this very aggressive approach? For instance, they have recently threatened to block the Open Skies agreement and part of the EU anti-terrorism legislation unless Gibraltar was excluded from it, they continue with the border delays, the problems over telephones, yet it would seem, I would have thought, to any reasonable outsider that the way to persuade the population of Gibraltar that it would be better off with Spain would be to adopt a totally different approach. Why do you think they continue to pursue this negotiating style or do you think they are trapped in it?

  (Mr Caruana) I will tell you; I will tell you. Because they believed that it would produce the results that it appears to be about to produce. They feared that if they introduced normality, what the Foreign Office has always called confidence-building measures, into the relationship, we terribly clever and devious Gibraltarians would pocket the economic and social benefits of normality—not that we are asking for favours, just the benefits of normality between two territories of the European Union—and then we would make hay whilst the sun shone, which would be a very long time, and they would never get their evil way. Instead, they said, because they were not willing to run that risk, the alternative was to make a nuisance of themselves. Originally the nuisance was just to Gibraltar on things which only affected me and my fellow citizens, then they realised that did not have an effect on UK Ministers. Then they looked at how they could turn up the pressure on the UK. The way to turn up the pressure on the UK was to make a nuisance of themselves in the European Union. They started vetoing this and vetoing that: justice and home affairs, aviation, environmental measures, financial. They started playing the Gibraltar veto threat at every crossroads on every issue so that sooner or later the other 13 Member States would come to both us and the UK and say "Come on chaps. This is getting terribly tiresome for the rest of us. Can't you sort this out?". Frankly, from where I now sit, the Foreign Office is about to cave in to that approach to life.

  19. It still does not get over the constitutional veto in Gibraltar. The more that strategy works with the United Kingdom Government, the less it is going to work with the people of Gibraltar.

  (Mr Caruana) Absolutely right. That is why it is very important for us that we should be free from the imposition of agreements against our will, precisely so that the UK continues to act, not in accordance with what may be in its interests this month or this year, but the right thing by the commitment it has to the people of Gibraltar to allow us to decide our own future, bar independence, and to look after our interests within Europe. We believe that a grave disservice has been done to Gibraltar if we are asked to put our British sovereignty on the negotiating table, to put our exclusive British constitutional relationship on the table, in exchange for buying off Spanish pressure which has only built up because no-one has engaged Spain in the past. How unfair can you get? We have been complaining about telephones for five years. We have been complaining about border queues for five years. No-one does anything to enforce Spanish compliance with her EU obligations. When the pressure has been allowed to build up sufficiently in the cooker, those very same issues are then used as political leverage against us to explain why we have to do a deal on sovereignty. It is a rather too simplistic an approach to life.

2   See Evidence, pp 1-7. Back

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